Intellectual property: the basics

Intellectual property checklist for start-ups


Even the smallest of start-ups may have intellectual property (IP) worth protecting. From your business name to the innovative design of your product, you will have assets that set you apart from other businesses in the market. The importance of these IP assets will only grow as your business matures, so it is important to get things right from the start.

This checklist provides an overview of some of the key IP considerations for start-up businesses and the steps you should follow when setting out.

1. Carry out clearance searches

Before you invest time and money in building up your business under a particular name, check that this name isn't already in use. Search for trade marks that are in use, both registered and unregistered, and remember to check names as well as logos. This will help avoid unnecessary conflict with any pre-existing rights. Find out how to search for trade marks.

2. Check if a domain name is available

Before you decide on your trade mark, you may want to check if a suitable domain name is available. You will want one that relates to your chosen trade mark and hasn't already been taken up. You may want to check for and register variants of your chosen domain name. This may help you avoid some common domain name and trade mark conflicts.

3. Register your trade name, brand and logo

Registration will help you to secure your rights and protect your assets from misuse. Trade marks are territorial, so you will need to register them in territories that are relevant to your business. Find detailed guidance on trade marks.

4. Identify other types of IP assets you may have

As well as trade marks, you may have other types of intellectual property worth protecting. For example, design assets that you can register or innovative processes and equipment which you can patent. Carry out an intellectual property audit to help you identify the IP that you have and its value to your business.

5. Keep information confidential

Take care not to disclose information about any new ideas or inventions before you've applied for protection. This is especially important when it comes to patents, as disclosure can make your application invalid. Consider different ways of securing confidential information - for example, through non-disclosure agreements.

6. Protect your unregistered IP

Certain rights arise automatically - ie you don't need to apply for protection. For example, copyright and unregistered design rights. Since there is no registration with these rights, it may be difficult to prove ownership or argue infringement if someone is misusing your rights. It's good practice to keep documented evidence about the creation of your work to prevent possible conflict in the future.

7. Avoid infringing other people's rights

If you wish to use IP rights that you don't own, make sure that you seek necessary permissions in advance. You can license the rights or buy them outright. Take great care not to infringe other people's rights, since this can lead to reputational damage, legal action as well as potential fines and penalties.

See more on protecting intellectual property.

  • Invest NI Helpline
    0800 181 4422
  • IPO Information Centre
    0300 300 2000